With race as an eventual underlying issue, which candidate can best sway the majority?

I have fought the temptation to make comments on the upcoming May 20 mayoral election in Augusta. One reason is that I am a Columbia County resident, and some will say that I don’t have a dog in that hunt. But they are wrong.

Each county is affected by the success or failure of the other. We are connected in many ways and separated only by an imaginary line. What happens in Richmond County doesn’t really stay in Richmond County; neither do the happenings in Columbia County stay there.

AS FAR AS BEING mayor of Augusta, it really is no big deal – at least the way the city charter is written, giving the mayor little more than ceremonial powers and the tie-breaking votes on the Augusta Commission. That’s a very rare opportunity indeed, in the face of the political maneuvering that takes place – i.e., a commissioner not being present when a vote is taken.

But in spite of this lack of power, five candidates have put forth their names on the ballot.

So it is not a question of which one is the smartest of the five, or who is the most politically astute. The question – until the charter is changed, giving the mayor power other than what’s presently there – is this: Who, as Augusta’s mayor, can best conduct meetings and be a good diplomat for the city? That’s what Deke Copenhaver has been doing the past eight years, and all he could have been under the present charter. Maybe our legislative body one day will realize that we need a strong leader at the helm – not 10 as our government presently has – and vote to change the charter, with voter approval, so Augusta can move into the 21st century.

Of the five vying for office, I think two of them will draw insignificant votes. They both have too big of a handicap to overcome. However, Augusta Commissioner Alvin Mason, state Sen. Hardie Davis and Helen Blocker-Adams – these three have much more notoriety. That’s important in any political race.

Mason has been a leading voice on the commission since arriving there almost eight years ago, Davis not only has a constituency to draw from in the political arena, but being a minister he also can draw from the religious community. And I think everybody in Augusta has heard of Helen Blocker-Adams.

If winning the mayoral race depends on name recognition, Helen should win by a landslide. She certainly has taken every opportunity to cover the bases as far as getting to be known. And she could very well end up being mayor if she can carry a big majority
of the white vote, which I predict she will.

The only thing that could hurt her – especially in the black community, among the political crowd – is her association with conservatives. Many blacks who are not politically literate have little concern over this. They just like her personality.

IN OTHER WORDS, at some point in this election, although all of the candidates are black, race will become an underlying issue. The question then becomes: Which of the candidates can appease the majority of the voters and overcome this stigma?

It’s going to be a tricky situation for all of them, because they are operating in a city divided by race. None of the candidates can afford to alienate the white vote over the black vote to win, or vice-versa. This could turn out to be one of the most interesting races in Augusta in a long time, and would say more about Augusta than about who actually wins.

I hope that race will not become a factor in this coming mayoral election – or any election, for that matter. It is such a non-issue in the whole scheme of things. None of us can change our race and shouldn’t, if we could, just to satisfy those who have problem with it. There always has been a race problem, and probably always will be.

But we have a choice in whether to be a part of it.

(The writer is a former Augusta City Council member and a retired labor relations manager from Bechtel Savannah River Inc.)

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